The piadina is an unleavened flatbread, similar and probably related to that of the Middle East. This is no surprise given the Adriatic coast’s long Byzantine history.
For many years, this flatbread was considered a peasant’s meal because of the simple and easy to find ingredients. However, now it is a living cultural emblem that is the fast food of the region, found in little shops in the streets of cities all over Emilia Romagna. But it is a healthy delicious fast food, the ideal companion of prosciutto, soft cheese, arugula or anything else you want, even Nutella. (sic!)
Piadina, along with the Ferrarese Coppia, is an iconic bread of Emilia Romagna It is not only a bread; it is edible Romagnolo poetry. “Behold it is smooth as paper and/as big as the moon,” wrote a nineteenth-century Italian poet, Giovanni Pascoli, in a work entitled “La Piada.”
It is disk of pastry, made of flour, lard, salt and water, and it is cooked on a terracotta dish (testo) or heavy metal pan over hot coals. As with any bread, there is a special flavor imparted by cooking over hardwood coals, but is a special luxury often lost in modern times.
The following is a starting point for your adventure with piadina. Remember Italian country cooking is based on the unmeasurable “pizzico” (pinch) and the visual and tactile judgments of the cook. So don’t hold my feet to the fire for these measurements. Still, they should be a good start towards making 6 generous piadinas.
- 4 1/2 Cups flour (many piadari (piadina makers) prefer type 00 flour, which is a finely ground specialty flour)
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt (if you're lucky you can get Sale Di Cervia, a "sweet" salt of the Emilia-Romagna region)
- 1/3 Cup (2 ounces) lard (please use lard for an authentic flavor)
- 1 1/2 Cups (12 oz) water (some piadinari have told me that you can replace some of the water with milk, although this seems to be unnecessary)
- Make a mound with the flour.
- Dissolve baking soda in water at room temperature. Put aside for a minute.
- Make a well in the center of the mound of flour. Drop in the lard and salt and baking powder. Work it together with the flour with your fingertips. It can be stringy and not completely mixed at this point.
- Make a well again and pour in water and milk (if you have added any). Mix with a spatula or with your fingers until dough comes together. Add a little more warm water or flour, if needed. You want a soft NOT STICKY dough. Knead for a couple minutes, and roll into a cylinder shape. Divide the dough into six or eight eight balls.
- Set each ball aside on a little flour. Cover with a towel and set aside to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Heat a flat griddle or a large cast frying pan on the stovetop over medium heat
- Slightly flatten each piece of dough briefly and roll out with a rolling pin into 6 - 8 inch rounds, 1/8-inch thick.
- When the pan is hot enough that drops of water sizzle as soon as they hit it, gently lift one piadina and place it on the pan, checking the piadina frequently and turning it once halfway through cooking. Cook for one minute on each side, or until you start seeing toasted brown spots all over the piadina.
- Prick the dough with a fork to prevent too many air bubbles from forming; this will give you to flat piadina with its characteristic light and dark spots
- Repeat with each ball, and stack the cooked piadinas. Cover them loosely with a dish towel.
- Piadinas freeze well. Reheat on a griddle over low heat, or wrapped in damp paper towels in the microwave.
- Cooked piadinas are best when eaten right away, but will keep in a plastic bag for a few days. If you're not going to eat them all right away. you can refrigerate the dough and make the piadinas as you need them.